I was talking the other day with Mike Martz, offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions, when the subject turned to his passing game and its wide receivers.
Basically, what I wanted to know is if he could raise the Titanic and find something worth salvaging there. What I got was something I never expected.
|Mike Martz and his patented grimace move from St. Louis to Detroit. (Getty Images)|
OK, so it's not the "Greatest Show on Turf" that Martz ran in St. Louis, but get this: He didn't discourage comparisons with some of those players. And tell me the last time you heard anyone say something that positive about the Detroit Lions.
"I'm excited about the potential," Martz said of his receivers, "but we're a long way off. Still, I wouldn't put a limit on these guys. I don't think that's fair."
The key there is second part of the first sentence. Throughout the conversation, Martz kept emphasizing that the Lions offense -- particularly its receivers -- needs time to develop, learn and, basically, cast off past habits that are in its way.
If there was one guy he singled out it was wide receiver Roy Williams, the former first-round draft pick who could be one of the league's star performers -- if, that is, he can make it through a season without getting hurt.
"He's at an elite level in terms of his ability," said Martz, "but he has a lot of conditioning and getting in shape to do. The guy's got terrific potential."
Williams led the team in catches and touchdowns his rookie year, and while he led the club again last season in TD catches, he tailed off with the rest of the club.
Martz isn't concerned about last year or the year before. Remember, when he joined the Rams as their offensive coordinator in 1999, the club was coming off a string of nine straight losing seasons, including a 4-12 finish in 1998.
Then they won their division, reached the playoffs for the first time since 1989 and won Super Bowl XXXIV. And they did it with an offense that ranked first in scoring and passing.
I'm not saying these Lions are on that track or anywhere near it. But listening to Martz makes me wonder if the Lions might not be one of those bottom feeders to come out of nowhere and surprise people. I know, we're talking about a dead-end club that is 21-59 the past five seasons and on its fourth head coach since the end of the 2000 season.
But the Rams shook off years of mediocrity. Why can't Detroit? Talk to Mike Martz.